In the News

Tyrone fire police unit to be settled in court

By Greg Bock for The Altoona Mirror
July 25, 2011

TYRONE – The question over which organization is the legitimate fire police unit for Tyrone Borough will likely go to court, attorneys for both sides said.

Ebensburg attorney Tim Burns represents the Tyrone Fire Patrol while Tyrone Borough maintains the group it sanctions, the Tyrone Fire Police, is the rightful owners of the equipment, building and the van used to control traffic and crowds during emergencies.

The fire patrol is the Tyrone Fire Police, but not the fire police the borough has sanctioned, Burns said. That group, Burns said, is a new group recently created by the borough, and his clients’ group, headed by President Ralph W. Stimer and Vice President Eugene Zimmerman, is the legitimate organization charged with responding to fires in the borough.

The Tyrone Fire Patrol and Fire Police are not two separate organizations but one in the same, Burns said. The name was changed from Tyrone Fire Police in 2010, so the group could qualify for a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, Burns said.

The borough’s recently created fire police are new and not entitled to the assets of the fire patrol, which until last year was the fire police, he said.

Daniel Stants, the attorney representing Tyrone Borough, doesn’t dispute the fact there is a Tyrone Fire Patrol and a Tyrone Fire Police, but those organizations are not one in the same, he said.

Stants points out the fire patrol is a corporation formed in 1893, with no modern-day presence, and the fire police organization, formed in 1958 according to state law, is the true fire police for the borough.

The key is case law that supports the borough’s authority as the final say on who belongs to the fire police organization, an extension of the local fire companies which provide the nominations, Stants said.

Changing the name from fire police to fire patrol doesn’t mean the organization can break its municipal ties and respond to emergency scenes without the blessing of the fire departments and Borough Council, Stants said.

The fire patrol has been banned from responding to emergencies and the fire departments will call in the fire police as needed, as is the practice in Pennsylvania, Stants said.

Furthermore, Stants said, the borough owns the land on which the fire police built a building in the 1970s to house its vehicle and equipment, and the fire patrol isn’t the rightful tenant under the lease agreement with the fire police.

Burns is also challenging the borough’s revised ordinance concerning fire police, one that solidifies its say over membership.

This month, Council bounced Stimer, Zimmerman and others who belong to the fire patrol, and on Monday a borough-approved member of the fire police, who is also a suspended member of the fire patrol, lost a $7,275 civil lawsuit by default when he failed to show up in magisterial district court.

The fire patrol had sued John Eirich Sr. for the Labor Day raffle tickets the group sells every year to raise money.

Eirich said Friday he didn’t show up to the hearing because he was under the impression the fire patrol would withdraw the suit after he paid Stimer and Zimmerman $275 to cover the tickets Eirich bought using fire patrol funds even though he was selling the tickets on behalf of the fire police.

Burns has also filed a private criminal complaint against Eirich for selling the raffle tickets without a small games of chance license, although Stants points out Eirich has applied for that license in his own name each of the last five years and spearheads the fire police fundraising.

Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio said Friday that his office received the complaint and would look into it.

Stants said the default judgment against Eirich will be contested in the Blair County Court of Common Pleas and that the fire patrol has improperly usurped the fire police assets, including bank accounts, a claim Burns said he will beat in court.